Concert promoter, career celebrity and walking plastic surgery disaster David Gest has produced a film about the life of “his best friend” Michael Jackson. Gest’s input results in some unintended comedy, notably in the form of his inept pieces to camera, and in the title “Michael’s close friend” that appears on screen beneath him at every opportunity. Hilarity also ensues when the fame chasing, rubber-faced Gest accuses someone else of having ‘very little class’.
All the old familiar territory is re-visited in this film – the abusive father, the cosmetic surgery, the Pepsi commercial incident, the marriages to Presley and Rowe, the skin disease and the sexual abuse allegations. Though the film doesn’t really reveal anything new, it does have some intriguing star players. Gest grew up with the Jackson family and his interviews with brother Tito and mother Katherine are at the heart of the film. There are also appearances by sister Rebbie Jackson and musicians Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Taylor and more. The film would have benefitted from interviews with Joe and La Toya Jackson, Debbie Rowe and Lisa-Marie Presley (Gest doesn’t specify whether these key players in Jackson’s life were approached for interviews or not).
Father Joe Jackson is painted as a complex figure who simultaneously scarred his children for life and gave them a future far better than the drudgery at the local metal works they could otherwise have expected. Hard work and a hard manager set the Jackson children up for success but they wouldn’t have succeeded without talent. Interviewees speak of Michael as a “precious talent” and an “old soul” – someone who was able to give a stunning performance of Who’s Loving You at the age of eleven. The contrast between this early maturity and later childishness is commented on by Smokey Robinson – “when he was a child he was a man. When he was a man, he had a chance to be a child… so he took it.”
In 1979 Jackson went solo, joined Quincy Jones and released Off the Wall. During the next three years he underwent a physical and musical transformation and emerged with Thriller, the catalyst for a meteoric rise that would continue for the next ten years. It was around this time that Jackson sustained the burns that are credited for beginning his drug dependencies, but his world really crashed down in 1993 with the first allegations of molestation. Gest claims that Jackson acted under poor advice by paying the Chandler family off, and that he regretted it for the rest of his life. It certainly set a bad precedent and Jackson was accused by another family in 2003. With his heavily publicized unhappy childhood and known predilection for child-like fun it was all too easy to believe that Jackson was guilty, and by the time he was acquitted almost two years later his reputation was forever tarnished.
Gest clearly had better luck sourcing music and images from the early part of Jackson’s career, and the first half of the documentary buzzes with the sounds of The Jackson Five. The second half of the film, which would have been so appropriately paired with songs Scream, Man In The Mirror and They Don’t Care About Us is instead backed with generic ominous droning.
The Life Of An Icon is too long, too Gest-heavy, and arguably too flattering a portrait of a complicated man. It’s also a fascinating glimpse into the early years of an extraordinary talent. The documentary does a convincing job of painting Jackson as a gentle and innocent man who never recovered from the trauma of the allegations against him. Gest would have you believe that real killers of Michael Jackson were the unscrupulous families who accused him of sexual abuse for their own financial gain – and his evidence is compelling.
Kathryn van Beek www.joyriderpromotions.com
Watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNWeRLasW0I